|©1987 Def Jam
1. You're Gonna Get Yours
2. Sophisticated Bitch
3. Miuzi Weighs a Ton
5. Too Much Posse
6. Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man)
7. Public Enemy No. 1
9. Yo! Bum Rush the Show
10. Raise the Roof
12. Terminator X Speaks With His Hands
Before he converted to Islam and became politically conscious, Muhammad Ali was known as Cassius Clay. Affectionately nicknamed "The Louisville Lip" by one of his first trainers due to his mouth being faster than his hands and despite showing signs of brilliance and unlimited potential, he did not really intimidate anyone inside the boxing ring. Public Enemy's debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show metaphorically fits the early career mold of "The Greatest". Yes, there are signs of skill and a unique style that would define their craft, but it's not quite at the level we're accustomed to while lacking a strong identity.
Truth be told, I don't have much of a problem of what's on the album, but I do have a problem with what's not on the album. Chuck D is infamous for his political charged barrages via rhyme, but what's on here are braggadocios odes to riding in nice cars with guns and being the coolest kid on the block. Only "Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man)" seems to have a social message, but it lacks the laser guided focus of a sniper rifle found on later albums, and feels more like a scattershot from a shotgun at long distance. While Flavor Flav's presence normally borders on the surreal, here he's comparably tame and feels like a last second throw in at times. Many fans have wondered how Flav fits into Public Enemy, and at the time of their signing with Def Jam, so did then-executive Rick Rubin. Upon hearing the suggestion that the clock wearing doofus be dropped from the group, Chuck retorted "He can play 15 instruments, I can't play lotto." Songs like the opener "You're Gonna Get Yours", "Sophisticated Bitch", and "Public Enemy No.1" are slick and catchy, and should normally be found on a compilation. Most classic era Public Enemy tracks have enough sonic force to crush a tank, while the majority of Yo! Bum Rush the Show can barely make a noticeable dent in an old Impala.
However, it should be worth noting that this opinion is in hindsight and at the time it was a revolutionary record that stood shoulder to shoulder with other Def Jam classics of the time. Maybe I'm being a little too honest here, but a Public Enemy album that doesn't give me pangs of white guilt is one I can do without.
Review by Joel Gilbert
Review date: 03/2013
|©1988 Def Jam Recordings
1. Countdown to Armageddon
2. Bring the Noise
3. Don't Believe the Hype
4. Cold Lampin' with Flavor
5. Terminator X to the Edge of Panic
6. Mind Terrorist
7. Louder Than a Bomb
8. Caught, Can We Get a Witness?
9. Show 'Em Whatcha Got
10. She Watch Channel Zero?!
11. Night of the Living Baseheads
12. Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos
13. Security of the First World
14. Rebel Without a Pause
15. Prophets of Rage
16. Party for Your Right to Fight
Mao Zedong, famously once said "A revolution is not a dinner party. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another." I can't think of a musical act that embodies that quote more than Public Enemy. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is that act of violence which overthrows the musical bourgeoisie out of their ivory towers and into the gutter.
The production team of The Bomb Squad incorporates a dense wall of sound containing noise, distortion, DJ scratches (courtesy of Terminator X), heavy sampling along with blaring horns and jazz piano lines meshing into an apocalyptic backdrop. A sonic Armageddon comparable only to Ministry's The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste. At the forefront of this controlled chaos is Chuck D's politically charged lyrics addressing issues such as racial injustice, political conspiracies, freedom of speech, all the way down to ruthlessly bashing trashy TV, legislation against sampling, and pandering sucker MCs. Chuck D ("The D Stands for Dangerous") says what he means, and means what he says. There's no ambiguity with him, yet there's a poetry to it with his authoratative and booming voice to go along witha great sense of rhyme and one of the, if not, the best flows in all of rap music. Then there's Flavor Flav who now is mostly referenced as a punch line to a joke. Yes, he does provide comic relief as an eclectic hype man, but instead of taking away from the heaviness of Public Enemy he adds another dimension normally not found in content at this level of seriousness and is a most welcome addition.
There are many highlights in the album to write about such as the hip-hop anthem "Bring the Noise" (more famously a collaboration with Anthrax, but the definitive version is here) or "She Watch Channel Zero?!" with its sampling of Slayer's "Angel of Death", but the album has such a frenetic pace and keeps it from start to end without losing any quality between the tracks it's hard to pick out anything as a stand out. There is of course, "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos", the only song not in the albums break-neck tempo with an ominous piano line throughout. It's not perfect as far as masterpieces go, but that lends it a unique charm. A few production mistakes and sequencing errors were kept in with lyrics and delivery altered to fit them.
In the golden age of hip-hop It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is one dirty, rusty, soot covered gem, yet none have shined as bright.
Review by Joel Gilbert
Review date: 03/2013